Multilingualism-another reason to stay in EU

Labour Party

Later today I will speak at an event about about the importance of multilingualism, and higher education.

I work for an institution which, as many of you will be aware, is required by law to speak 24 different languages. I represent a city which prides itself on both multiculturalism and multilingualism. So I have some idea of just how important languages are, the opportunities they create- jobs, experiences and the invaluable contribution to lifelong learning they create.

But I am concerned about what will happen to language education following the referendum. If on June 23rd Britain votes to leave the European Union, it seriously jeopardise language education.

If we cut ourselves from the continent, then we effectively prevent future generations from pursuing careers and enjoying experiences which will be accessible to the remaining member states.

And what message will it send to young people? The incentive to actively learn another language will significantly diminish.

The single market undoubtedly opens huge opportunities, but in order to thrive within that environment, to take advantage of what it offers or to set up a business, then language skills are an essential part in determining that success.

British citizens still need to acknowledge that the ‘everyone speaks English’ phenomenon is outdated.

We must embrace the so called ‘Barcelona Objective’ – an ambitious plan whereby all European school children should be able to communicate effectively in two languages in addition to their mother tongue.

But if we vote to leave the European Union, then we risk further reducing those important learning opportunities for future generations and their ability to be competent in other languages.

The European Commission has created several learning portals which allow young people to expand their horizons by travelling abroad for a few months and taking part in specific learning programmes. Such programmes are of course available to British students and we should encourage them to participate.

Learning languages is just one reason why we should vote to stay in the European Union on June 23rd. The possibilities offered as a result of embracing multiculturalism and multilingualism are endless, exciting and offer a real economic return for the country. We shouldn’t throw away the opportunities created and offered by the European Union.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week was marked by George Osborne’s budget on Wednesday. Osborne announced a host of measures, which included enabling people to withdraw their pension pot more flexibly – rather than buying an annuity at retirement age. As well as this the chancellor announced the creation of a new ‘Pensioner Bond’ for over 65s, the abolition of the 10p tax rate for savers, and the halving to 10% of the tax on BINGO halls. “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you,” Osborne announced.

The budget also included the announcement of a 1p cut on beer duty, the scrapping of a rise on fuel duty in September, reductions in long haul passenger duty, and the creation of a new, twelve-sided £1 coin – measures which were seen as populist gimmicks by many. Ed Miliband mocked the latter in his response to the chancellor, saying “It doesn’t matter if the pound is square, round or oval…You’re worse off under the Tories,” and even comedian Al Murray weighed in, pointing out that the cut on the price of beer would only have made a difference if we were living “in 1902”.

Embarrassingly for the Conservatives, they were forced to defend a mocked-up poster, tweeted by Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, which proclaimed that the government were “Cutting the BINGO tax and beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.” The poster was widely ridiculed as an exemplar of Tory highhandedness, and was dismissed as “condescending” by Labour strategist Stewart Wood.

With the General Election now just over a year off most of the biggest components were aimed at the so-called ‘grey vote’, who are more likely to go to the ballot box. Sweeteners and short-term boons were offered in return for votes next May, speaking volumes of what Polly Toynbee calls a society – and, I would add, a government agenda – where “tomorrow is sacrificed for today.”

The implications of budgets are often hard to gauge, but so far 2014 is not being viewed by the media as an “omnishambles” on quite the scale of 2012. For me though, it’s a budget full of headline-friendly but terrifyingly short-term steps. Almost all of Osborne’s announcements smacked of political and economic manoeuvring. The result of the changes to pensions, for example, is likely to be a medium- to short-term spike in taxes collected for the government, as older people draw down their pensions early – something for which, as with 1980s privatisations and the selling off of council houses, the next generation is likely to find itself footing the bill. As the Telegraph economics commentator Jeremy Warner put it, Osborne is “stealing tax revenue from the future in order to pay for today’s pre-election giveaways.”

As if to underscore the point that it will be the next generation who have to cover the costs, the end of the week saw Universities Minister David Willetts refuse to rule out further increases in tuition fees. Following repeated questioning in a Channel 4 interview he would not be drawn on whether fees – which trebled to £9,000 in the early stages of this parliament – would be pushed up even further after 2015. Willetts finally admitted that they “could be,” prompting speculation that the Conservatives would push the financial burden of higher education ever-further onto the student if they stayed in office.

Young people have been very much between the crosshairs during this parliament. The Conservatives have cut EMA and plan to remove benefits for under-25s, indulging in rhetoric which scapegoats young people as “idle” at a time when, more than ever, they need the government’s support. It is vital that we re-engage the younger generation in the democratic process, so that short-term political electioneering by the Tories does not push them ever-closer to the margins.

Increased Tuition Fees mean Increased Losses for the Student Loans Company

Labour Party

The conservative led coalition government’s plans to raise tuition fees could see much higher losses due to EU students failing to repay loans.

The current system issues loans for tuition fees and living costs.  There is additional help for those from poorer backgrounds.  These loans are then recouped automatically when the person who received them begins to earn over fifteen thousand pounds a year.  The coalition’s plans don’t substantively change the system, they simply increase the tuition fees and raise the threshold above which you start repaying the loans.

These loans are also available to any EU student who comes to study in the UK.  This is no bad thing and I think we can be very proud of the number of people who want to come to the UK to study at our numerous world class universities.  In terms of foreign students we lead in the EU by quite some margin. 

The problem comes after these EU students are done with their studies.  The current situation is such that if they decide to leave the country and work somewhere else, the UK government has absolutely no means whatsoever of compelling them to repay their loans.  They are committing a crime, but there are no means of prosecuting them, or the means are so expensive and complicated that the money recouped would be dwarfed by the cost of recouping it.

This has been happening for a while, at a fairly low level it must be said, but now that the fees have been tripled, so to will the losses from this kind of behaviour.  This isn’t mere speculation either.  I have been hearing from certain quarters that this is becoming a growing concern and losses could in fact be far greater than anyone is expecting.

More disturbingly than that, I have heard rumours that people within higher education, such as vice chancellors, are promoting their universities to EU students by explicitly stating that they will not be compelled to repay the loans.  Obviously it doesn’t matter to the university if they repay or not, they get the money no matter what.

Even without this guidance, it wouldn’t take a genius to work this out.  EU students can come to the UK and walk away with a thirty thousand pound education completely free, whilst British students will be forced to pay back this substantial amount of money whilst also contributing through taxes.  We must sort this issue out as soon as possible.  I have written to the commission (see question below) to see if they can see any potential ways of ensuring that loans are paid back by EU citizens.  I also urge the coalition government to look at this problem: your increase in tuition fees could raise considerably less money than you hoped if you don’t ensure that EU students are made to repay their loans. 

The LSE considers going private

Labour Party

The London School of Economics has presented plans about going private to its governing body in the wake the coalition’s cuts to higher education.  Apparently, along with Cambridge University, they feel there may comes a point after which it is simply not worth them staying in the state sector, even if they charge the proposed top rate of fee of ₤7,000 a year. 

The 40% cuts that the coalition is proposing for the higher education sector is going to disproportionately hit arts and humanities subjects, and LSE, being a world leader in social and political sciences, will feel the brunt more than most.

A letter signed by the chairman and director of the LSE, sent to Vince Cable regarding his statements on the Browne Report, strongly criticises his emphasis on subjects which provide specific skills, such as science and technology, over others.  The letter states that:

“No case is made in the report to suggest that the teaching of the social sciences, or indeed the humanities, are incapable of providing these skills or providing public benefit.  In fact, the social sciences provide students with many of the high-level and flexible skills desired by employers, including training in rigorous policy analysis, oral and written communication, and problem solving.”

As a history graduate myself, I find the idea that the coalition can have so little regard for subjects such as history, politics, social science and philosophy, deeply troubling, especially since many of members of the government have degrees in just these subjects.  The LSE does not offer any science or technology based courses, but is an institution of world renown that attracts the highest quality of student from the UK and abroad.  They go there because they know that the skills they can learn will be invaluable.

Furthermore, as a Labour representative, I am acutely aware of the role that the London School of Economics and its founders Sydney and Beatrice Webb, played in the early years of my party’s history.  That an institution built on the principles of social democracy and equality is considering becoming a private institution is disturbing, to put it mildly. 

A spokesperson for the LSE made it clear that they had to consider all available options in the light of the spending review.  The coalition is running the risk of putting too much strain on the institutions that make Britain a world leader in higher education. It would certainly not be in the national interest to undermine the excellent standing in which our best universities are held. Britain stands to lose a lot by falling behind in higher education, both at national level where our own students would not have the option of the highest level of learning and internationally where Britain is at the very top of the tree.

Universities UK

Labour Party

UniversitiesUK 002It’s always good to have the opportunity to meet those involved in the work of the Culture and Education Committee. I was therefore pleased to be invited by Universities UK to their breakfast meeting at Labour Party Conference along with Higher Education Minister David Lammy. Also in attendance yesterday was Gordon Marsden MP, a member of the Education Select Committee and an old colleague from university.

Education remains the Labour priority. The Labour Government has made huge strides in expanding access to university, while at the same time maintaining standards. The UK has four universities in the worldwide top ten, which I think says it all, especially since European countries such as France and Germany,whose education systems are considered to be among the best, have none at all.

It was good to discuss the Erasmus programme and the Bologna Process with Universities UK. I am particularly pleased that they have a European department and take European issues very seriously. I also look foward to meeting representatives from their European operation in Brussels in the near future.

My thanks in particular to Universities UK new Chief Executive, Nicola Dandridge, who I intend to keep in touch with, especially on lifelong learning and other education issues as they come to me as Socialist and Democrat Co-ordinator on the Culture and Education Committee.